Sunday, January 14, 2007

Movie Review: Ride With The Devil 2 ½ Stars

Director Ang Lee’s early films focused on the generation gaps between Old World Taiwanese and modern Taiwan-Americans. Pushing Hands, The Wedding Banquet and Eat Drink Man Woman proved critically and commercially successful and propelled Lee into more mainstream films like the (Academy Award-nominated) Jane Austen costume drama, Sense And Sensibility and The Ice Storm, a painful study of an affluent yet dysfunctional family in the 1970s. Even as he moved into the milieu of an A-list Hollywood director, the themes of generation and cultural gaps remain at the heart of all of his films.

Lee’s latest picture finds him in unexpected territory: the American Civil War. Once again, Lee tackles the story from the conflicting emotions of its central characters, caught not only in the middle of a war that’s dividing a country, but dividing families.

After his father is killed by Union troops, Son-of-the-South, Jack Bull Chiles (Skeet Ulrich) enlists in the Confederate Army, ready to take up arms for the Rebel cause. Jack Bull’s best friend is Jake Roedel (Tobey Maguire), who, although his family sides with the Union, joins a maverick group of Rebels known as the Bushwackers.

They are alternately at odds with and supported by their comrades-in-arms, leader Black John (James Caviezel), Southern gentleman, George (Simon Baker) and his slave, Daniel (Jeffrey Wright) and the seemingly insane Pitt (Jonathan Rhys Myers). The two boys, members of the South’s privileged class, are ill-prepared for the pitch of battle. Thrust into the heat of warfare, Jack Bull and Jake get a wake-up call in the midst of utter chaos.

When the Bushwackers take refuge in a barn, Jake begins a’courtin’ neighbor Sue Lee (Jewel Kilcher), a pregnant widow whose husband was killed in battle. But, as the war rages around them, it becomes clear that they will likely be torn asunder.

Ride With The Devil is a complex tale, beautifully shot and, for the most part, well-acted, only pop songstress, Jewel’s performance leaves us unsatisfied.

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